The Best Walking-Distance Bars in Los AngelesJanuary 21st, 2010 by Peter Kimmich
Los Angeles nightlife has many upsides, from the varieties of bars, clubs and lounges lining its streets to the wealth of live entertainment every night of the week.
But there’s a hurdle planted smack in the middle of Los Angeles nightlife: You almost can’t go anywhere without driving. That means forcing a friend into being the designated driver, scouring the streets for parking (or paying a valet), and spending your precious weekend nights in the car. The only other option is the city’s sparse supply of cabs, unless you happen to live within the limited range of the Metro.
Thankfully, there are rare zones of Los Angeles where driving is only necessary in the daytime. For local residents of these areas (and their visiting friends), a virtual hive of activity is only steps away.
This is the first installment of the best walking-distance bars in Los Angeles. Go forth, be merry, and leave your keys behind.
Part 1: the Los Feliz-Silverlake Circuit
The Rustic, on Hillhurst just south of Franklin, is probably the divest dive bar since 1800. The place is graced with a dimly lit, dark wood interior, antler chandeliers, and the smell of dirty jeans, greasy hair and spilled booze. The jukebox blares a mix of ‘70s and ‘80s dive-bar hits mixed with the standard Los Feliz indie rock fare. The bartenders are fun, social and generous with the booze, and the vibe is loud, cheerful and drunk. In fact, starting here might very well be the end of your night – but if you can hang, this is the place to take the first round of shots.
If the Rustic is the dive bar from 1891, the Drawing Room across the street is the dive bar from 1981. The red vinyl booths look like they could be reserved for Italian mobsters, the dingy red dragon swirling across the back wall is more “porn set” than cultural, and the dart board and jukebox have the kind of character it takes years to accumulate. But in keeping with dive bar tradition, the drinks here are cheap, with a capital CHEAP. Get a quick round here before moving to your next destination.
A few blocks west on Vermont, the Dresden is in an entirely different universe. The place (made famous by the movie “Swingers”) is a 1940s-era lounge restaurant and bar, complete with Marty & Elayne, the veteran jazz duo who keep the place swept up in classy, jazzy tunes. It gets packed, so hanging around for long can be tiring, but it’s worth a drink and a tip of the ol’ fedora.
Back on Hillhurst, this decorative Asian-themed bar was once a secret, but is beginning to become well-known among visitors to the Silverlake area. Drinks are moderately priced, bartenders are quick and friendly, and the red walls, latticed woodwork and cushioned lounge area in the back create the illusion of a Chinese palace. Try to make it before midnight, when the seating starts getting scarce.
4356 West Sunset (map)
This alternative-lifestyle (alright, gay) rock bar on the corner of Sunset and Fountain is dark, down-to-earth and open to everyone, regardless of which team you’re on. There’s almost always a crowd of happy drunks outside, and the jukebox blasts continually. Contrary to some gay bar scenes, elitism is nowhere to be found among the patrons, and lines are nonexistent. Though there may occasionally be a guy in a see-through jersey top, he’s cool, too. Drop in for a beer and some anti-republican conversation.
6. Malo Cantina
4326 West Sunset (map)
A few doors down, this bar is easily spotted because it’s right next to the huge mural featured on the cover of Elliott Smith’s Figure 8. It was supposedly a hang out of his, and five years ago you would believe it because it had, in our opinion, absolutely the best jukebox in Los Angeles. The jukebox has since been replaced by a digital download center, but even with that charm removed it still carries its weight as a sparsely populated, old-fashioned Mexican bar, with good imported beers, great tequilas, and an amazing jar of sangria. Take a shot, have a beer, and read hand-scrawled notes on the Elliott Smith wall on your way out.
7. El Cid
4212 West Sunset (map)
A few paces from Malo, this Mexican bar and restaurant is hidden below street level, looking like a vacant doorway in a stucco wall. The stage features flamenco dancers weeknights, and local bands regularly, plus other musical events certain nights of the week. Come in for Sharpo! Murder Mystery Dinner Theater on Fridays.
The last bar in this stretch is 4100, the large, brick building just west of Santa Monica and Sunset. With its eastern-themed interior and a crowd varying from loose-tied professionals to film-student types and drunk hipsters, this is a good last stop to have an imported beer or a vodka tonic before scouring the crowd for a late-night love interest. You might encounter a line if you’re getting there late, but the wait isn’t long.